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Defendant Questions Use of Frye Hearing in Murder Case


People v. B.

2018 NY Slip Op 01956

March 22, 2018

After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of a violation of Penal Law 125.25, which is second-degree murder. The defendant murdered his girlfriend in a New York hotel room, found partially clothed in a bathtub. The defendant’s DNA was found on the bathtub fixtures. It was determined that the victim had water in her lungs, as well as markings on her neck which indicated both drowning and strangulation. It was a judgment call by the experts to determine which action caused her ultimate death.

The defendant appealed the decision, contending that the court’s allowing a Frye hearing was not appropriate. He also argued that the issuing of several evidentiary hearings was not appropriate. The appellate court affirmed the trial courts findings for the people (People v Brooks 134 AD3d 574 [1st Dept. 2015].

In a Frye hearing, expert testimony is allowed if the scientific procedure used has gained general acceptance in the science community (Frye v US 293 F 1013). What they are trying to determine at these hearings is if applied techniques are considered reliable in the scientific community.

The Frye hearing deals with whether there is a proper foundation to determine if the scientific methods are appropriately employed in a case (Parker v Mobil Oil Corp 7 NY3d 434 [2006].

The court felt that the trial court improperly employed a Frye hearing to rule on the expert’s defense testimony, but it was a harmless error.

The court rejects the defendant’s contention that there were problems with the evidentiary hearing. The defendant feels that the testimony from multiple character witnesses was prejudicial. There was a total of 11 witnesses, which the defendant felt was cumulative. The court instructed the jury that the evidence could only be used to show the nature of the defendant’s relationship with the victim. Regardless, the court felt that the testimony about the defendant’s prior bad behavior was reflected in his own admissions to the police. The argument about the cumulative nature of the testimony is unpreserved.

The trial court did err, however, in allowing testimony about an argument between the victim and the defendant, where the defendant previously threatened to kill her. This statement as it was admitted was double hearsay (People v Meadow 140 AD3d 1596, 1599, 1599-1600 [4th Dept. 2016]. The people contend that the threat wasn’t offered for its truth. The court said that the information was admissible under a Molineux theory, but it must be in admissible form (People v Meadow 140 AD3d 1596). There is also not a blanket hearsay exception that such statements can be used for background in a domestic violence case (People v Maher 89 NY2d 456, 460-461 [1997]. However, because the evidence was overwhelming against the defendant, the court contends that the error was harmless.

The order is affirmed.

If you have been charged with a violent crime, it is important to seek prompt legal help. If convicted, the penalties for these crimes can be significant and can include prison time, large fines and probation. Come in and speak to the legal team at Stephen Bilkis and Associates for guidance and a free consultation. We have offices to serve you throughout New York City, including offices in Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. We also have locations in Nassau County, Suffolk County, and Westchester County.  Call us at 1-800NYNYLAW.

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